Codger’s column: Story time

Codger’s father, Coot, told epic bedtime stories.

His wondrous Cooterized versions of the Iliad and the Odyssey, layered with moral asides and modern references, could go on for weeks. But the tales the kid Codger liked best — and would plead and cajole him into retelling — were the ones about hearing the “Mayday” calls from the Titanic on his crystal radio when he was 8, in 1912; Coot’s own dad’s death during the 1918 flu pandemic; and seeing brokers jump out of Wall Street windows in 1929.

Coot was reluctant, but when he did tell them, the takeaway was always the same — you could get past most bad times if you stayed calm and hung in there. Once the COVID-19 pandemic made a stronghold in Southold, Codger wanted to call Coot as he had during flare-ups in the Cold War, 9/11 and various personal crises.

But Coot died in 2005, a few months shy of 101, after a fall in the shower. He had insisted, no, demanded, on living alone with a minimum of drop-in supervision. He refused to wear an alert alarm. He said if he fell down and couldn’t get up, he didn’t want to get up, which was what happened.

Codger actually dialed up Coot anyway — don’t ask, this is a surreal time — and after Coot delivered his mantra, “nothing is ever as good or bad as your imagination can make it,” he asked for a catch-up. Codger’s son, Crunch, was teaching his college classes online, and his daughter, Cat, until she had to lawyer from home, had been instructed to leave two seats empty on either side at conferences. (Codger imagined Coot saying, “Knowing lawyers, that kind of distance is prudent in the best of times.”)

Coot was impressed, as was Codger, with Shelter Island’s quick, smart response to the crisis. The new school superintendent, Brian Doelger, and the new supervisor, Gerry Siller, showed leadership as did the direct and steady Police Chief Jim Read.

Their skills further highlighted the willfully mismanaged national response. Codger pontificated that anyone on the Island who voted for Trump or Zeldin needed to be immediately tested — for brain activity. He couldn’t wait to tell them this to their faces from a six-foot distance.

Coot demurred. He had been an upper-level bureaucrat in the city’s Board of Education and often advised young Codger on dealing with weasels and rats to get what you wanted. Expressing righteous anger was self-indulgent and over-rated.

“We are past that,” replied Codger, with the certainty of comparative youth. “This is life and death.”

“In life it’s always life and death,” said Coot, wearily, but kindly. Kid Codger had thought Coot all-knowing, young Codger thought he was passive, middle-aged Codger had figured out he was fatalistic and stoical. “Be positive. It’s better to be six feet away than six feet under.”

“Funny,” said Codger, sarcastically.

“I thought so, too,” said Coot. “What else do you know?”

Trying to sound as straightforward and humane as his current official model, Governor Andrew Cuomo (“I like his father,” interjected Coot), Codger offered a more fulsome report.

Shelter Island is still a great place to shelter, he said, and while the influx of second homeowners stripped the IGA shelves and increased the airborne droplets, it also lined the roads with families of walkers to nod and smile and say hello to, alleviating the social recession.

Walking Cur II, especially with Crone, has been exercise and therapy.

Some local institutions have stepped up, notably the library, with resources and suggestions, and Senior Services, two of Codger’s favorites. The most critical supply — accurate information — has come from Cuomo’s press conferences and the best of the media, especially The New York Times and the networks, except Fox.

Codger thinks that being unable to trust the president and his gang of moral if not legal criminals, is a clear and present danger.

“That’s good,” said Coot. “But useful advice is better.”

“There’s the usual be safe and decent stuff you can get online,” said Codger. “I’d add, let yourself goof off, listen to music, sip a vodka quarantini or two, try yoga, video games, write your memoirs. But don’t forget about yesterday’s anxiety (ticks) or tomorrow’s (climate change). Stay in touch with your family, friends and needy neighbors.”

“You always had a lot to say,” said Coot. “See you later.”

As Coot faded, Codger had one more thing to say to him: On an inspired suggestion from daughter Cat, Codger has begun reading daily from “The Lightning Thief” on FaceTime to Cricket, his 7-year-old grandson, who lives in the city. It’s about 12-year-old Percy, diagnosed “dyslexic” and “troubled,” but really a demigod tasked to save the world.

Codger imagined Coot chuckling.